February 06, 2011

Ahhhhhhh, Valentine’s Day…♫ ღ

… salut d'amour xoxo

See Naples and die? I always wondered 'Why', (I’m too polite to ask of 'What'). Doctor Johnsons’s declaration that “when a man is tired of London he is tired of life” has left me equally bewildered. I can see being tired of Los Angeles, not tired of life.

And, like a sensible heroine, I will pick myself up and go to Venice.

The idea is not so much to see Venice, but to be there. Not to gaze at the wonders, but to become a figure in the tableau. To that end, please if at all possible, no hotel.  But, if it can be managed some fine old rooms, wholly independent and the more interesting the better where we shall be to ourselves, with a cook, frescoes, antiquities, the thorough make-believe of the setlement.

Such is the eternal lure of that miracle-from-the-swamp, Venice. Refugees from the mainland conjured it up from mud and reeds as they tried to outrun death in the form of Attila the Hun. And, as if the city’s mere existence is not preposterous enough, their prosperous descendents had it gilded.

Since the Middle Ages, Venice has been attracting dazed foreigners; pilgrims venerating holy relics, crusaders commisioning ships, Jews escaping persecution, artists looking for civic commisions, writers looking for dramatic settings, filmakers looking for eery urban scenery, royalty experiencing unpopularity at home, millionaires pursuing experiences that would have made them unpopular at home, and a millenium’s worth of traveling tradesmen and toutists from whatever has constituted the known world at any given time. Together, we form an endless caravan of Marco Polos in reverse.

If this playing at being Venetian sounds like so much girlish nonsense, consider some of the toughies who have thoroughly indulged their own fantasies: Lord Byron, Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietsche, Robert Browning, Ernest Hemmingway, Ezra Pound. And if they all seem to be wild romantics, so as not to say discracefully self-dramatizing show-offs, here is the confession off someone not exactly known for the expression of unfeterred personal passions: “I adore it- have fallen deeply and desparately in love with it.”  That, dear reader is Henry James, gushing to his friends when Venice got hold of him, he was to pass this on to the heroines in his novels. True, he had rhapsodized promiscuously over other European cities, even Florence, which he described as being in need of a lover, “and that lover moi.” (Master, please. You are embarrasing us.)

But that was a decade before he declared, Venice’s “magic potion has entered my blood.”   Venice was the one that made him crave a permanent Continental relationship-as a residential mistress, to be kept as the object of his feverish attentions when he strayed from England.  As I know myself, in Venice, one can easily go overboard.

'Addicted to Love' The Economist  For an article on the science behind love.

The potion is commenly acknowledged to be potent enough to do subliminal sensual work even on those who have never visited or given Venice any particular thought. Catalogues, magazines, television and movies, use Venetian footage to evoke the passionate nature of international commerce. Venice is used to selling everything from computers to Valentine’s Day. In the advertisers’ book of wisdom, under the section on associating a product with enticing irrelevancies, Venice must be the example given right after scantily dressed women. Venice, world symbol of romance, show them Venice, and they’ll be unable to resist anything. True.

In the Romantic Era, as in our own age, a weakened and consequently benign Venice presents itself as picturesque. No amount of elective or emergency architectural surgery can conceal the ravages of age and the lack of imperial budget. Its present appeal would probably be blasted away by dazzle if we saw Venice as it was in its heyday. Decayed beauty suited the Romantics, and it suits the starker modern taste for irony and pathos. That Venice seems lovely because of its fragility, this is exasperating to its active caregivers, but they well know that pity and alarm are the basic fund-raising tools.

The tendency to blather about Venice’s beauty, using any excuse to pronounce the beloved name, is a hazard of being a Venetophile. A greater hazard is holding conversation with a Ventophile. But, what lover ever failed to argue that beauty alone would not have been sufficient to ignite the fever?

Although, Venice has its domestic virtues. It is quiet, no cars.

Venice is a healthy place to live. We have heard this claim before, memorably in Death in Venice, where the tourists are told that everything is fine and not to worry about the sudden disappearances of people who were looking peaked. Earlier, there was that matter of ships carelessly bringing the plagues home, and to all of Europe. A city where one of the churches is commonly known by the word “health”(the Salute) can be said to have known medical problems.

What is meant, I suspect, is that it is healthy in the life-style sense. I can see why. Treadmills and stair machines are provided by the municipality. With the necessity of walking everywhere, every few yards being up and down the steps of bridges, Venice’s old people are remarkably free of strokes and varicose veins.

For a proud commercial power during its entire independent existence, Venice is, of all cities, the least disfigured by advertising. Graffiti, yes, but that is political, not commercial.

Venice is startlingly crime-free. Real life elsewhere has accustomed Americans to thinking of ourselves as constant targets at home, and even more vulnerable when we travel. Art heists have been known to happen. My charming hostess told me an elaborate tale of how she had heroically held a burglar in check until the police arrived. “Venetians?” I ask incredulously. “Oh, no,” she reassured me. “Certainly not! No, no, no! Italians!”

This is not to claim that Venice eschews the machinations of global corruption. On the contrary, historic Venetian mercenary cunning still contributes a special twist to the perils of encountering its legal system.

However, rudeness is a crime in Venice. To be “mal educata”, the Italian expression for rude, is enough to shut most doors.

If Venetophilia cannot be explained by aesthetics alone, adding the comforts of peace and quiet are not likely to push a contented visitor over the edge to obsession. Will adding an erotic element do it?

Venice may have to import its tap water, but a natural resource that she is believed to provide is love, or at least its holiday approximation. Alas, as only the occasional befuddled American movie star fails to realize it is no longer fashionable to keep a pet gondolier, people are more likely to bring their own partners. Venice is the watery honeymoon destination for the just-married, the unmarried, and the married-but-not-to-each-other, a sort of horizontal Niagara Falls. Such couples are supposed to concentrate on each other. Pleasure, for a romantically inclined Venetophile, would require a threesome, in which the third party is Venice. A love who seemed exciting enough elsewhere to be brought along, but who fails to grasp the excitement of Venice is a nuisance. Romance will wither, and has.

Venice has a more powerful allure than any enticement to a mere human fling, although, like all seduction ploys, this, too, is a lie. She seems to offer perpetual life by placing you in the center of the busy flow of never-ending human history. In Venice, you are not peering into the past; you are standing in it. You are not only conjuring the private lives of people you would have longed to know; you are living in their houses. And you don’t have to feel insignificant in comparison with your heroes and their peers, because right now, they are offstage, and you are on the very stage they used. This gives you the heady feeling that you, too, will remain vivid far into the future that romance will never leave you, and you only hurt when it is you who has to leave Venice.

Once more, with feeling,

"Buon San Valentino", Venezia,

(before you float away)


Peter (click?) said...

Heck, can't remember now why I'm posting this...

Oh yes, Happy Everything

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

Thank you, I think. Peter? Peter who?

Charles (click) said...

You know, I had to do this.

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

Thank you illuminating as always.
And I just remembered that St. Valentin is the patron saint of fisherman along the Rheinregion near Karlsruhe, Germany my 'original' neck of the woods.
He certainly is multi-tasking.

Mona said...

Merci pour la belle post!
A wonderful coda to my day...